Pakistan’s confused liberators

Many believe liberals are progressives. No, they aren't. Sadly, a narrative of the left is badly missing in Pakistan.

Ammar Aziz October 03, 2011
Ours is a country full of right wing rebels, super rich humanists, revisionist progressives, delusional liberals and various other sorts of self-claiming messiahs.

In one way or the other, all of these people who talk about reforms, peace, poverty eradication and national prosperity claim to have a solution for Pakistan’s deep-rooted problems in their own way. They sometimes chant about an unseen ‘true vision of Jinnah’s Pakistan’ and sometimes find relief in the rich cultural diversity of their history starting from the Indus Valley civilization.

Despite their ideological differences, they stand united, or at least claim to stand united, against Islamic fundamentalism but not necessarily against US imperialism. They have their own interpretations of democracy and some of these often idealise the US model of free-market economy.

Unfortunately, this chaotic situation seems to be the only ‘strength’ against the day-by-day prevailing problems of the country. Take, for instance, Imran Khan who fits well into the first category of the ‘right wing rebels’. Struggling hard to register himself as the next-big-thing in the Pakistani political scenario and a youth icon by starting an Obama-like campaign of ‘hope’, he has proved to be the most confused politician ever. With absolutely no ideological clarity, his party constantly shifts its positioning from being a nationalist patriotic party to a reformist democratic party.

Imran Khan seems to adopt an anti-establishment, anti-feudal position but at the same time takes pride in the tribal customs while having a soft corner towards Islamic extremists. His support among the youth is nothing beyond a cult and this cult-following is the outcome of his successful past as a cricketer and activism as a philanthropist. In short, he is anything but a threat to the ruling elite and the establishment. Other people in this category include Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, a senior member of the traditionally conservative PML-N, who even wrote a book titled, Haan main baaghi hoon (Yes, I am a rebel).

Who are they rebelling against? That is still a mystery.

Pakistan’s former leftists and elitist intelligentsia are those rich ‘humanists’ and revisionist progressives I mentioned in the beginning. After the Soviet-split, a majority of our small left-wing became a part of the NGO culture inPakistan. Their NGOs have turned into massive family businesses. Despite their very political past, the founders of these NGOs mostly declare themselves as apolitical now. They are all funded by the foreign organisations on the issues of women, child labour, worker’s rights, education and poverty alleviation. This work can only be seen in their presentations for the foreign donors. They love to be known as ‘civil society’ and can sometimes be seen organising candle vigils on selective issues. During the Cold War era, they always stood with the Socialist Eastern bloc against imperialism. That is no more the case since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Presently, they advocate the US’s ‘progressive role’ against the rising terror of militant Islam. We will not be surprised if they transform again after the expected fall of the Wall Street in the near future.

Pakistan’s liberals also come in the list of self-claiming liberators. I do not call Pakistani liberals delusional because of their westernised lifestyle, English language journalism and urban centric activism like many others; my criticism hails from the philosophical foundations of liberalism.

Many believe that liberals are progressives. No, they are not. They are far from being progressive.

This misunderstanding started evolving after the official declaration of the ‘end of history’ and has grown more promptly in the post-9/11 world when the political spectrums of the left and right are believed to be invalid. For instance, during the last election campaign of the US, the media portrayed Obama as a leftist. That is not less than a joke for those knowing who leftists actually are. But unfortunately, not a lot of people know that.

Our liberals also consider themselves the ‘progressive force’ of the country. Some of them may actually be progressive but they like the tag of liberalism while they do not really know what liberalism is. More precisely, liberalism is founded on the sanctity of private property. According to John Locke, who is known as the father of liberalism, it is the possession of property that gives humans their freedom and it is their natural right to acquire property selfishly. This results in an inevitable love story of liberalism and capitalism.

Apart from this theoretical debate, our liberals keep diverting their position from various political issues. They usually mess the anti-imperialist stand of the left with the anti-American agenda of the right. They fail to understand the difference between anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism. They attempt hard to portray Jinnah as a secular leader. Many of them embraced Musharraf as an ‘enlightened and moderate’ saviour. They sought his patronage when they wanted state-support for cultural activities and ‘freedom of expression’ in the form of private media. They can never openly talk against the crimes of the CIA, ISI and Pakistan’s armed forces. More recently, they have found a wider audience, being active on the social media and blogosphere. Nonetheless, their narrative about the political chaos in Pakistan stays as perplexing as their liberal identity.

The narrative of the left is badly missing in Pakistan but not without a reason. Our state banned the ‘suspicious communists’ right in the beginning. Many were killed and jailed during military dictatorships. Those who stayed alive either changed their views or left the country.

Then we witnessed a historical twist in the form of Bhutto. This was the time when Pakistan’s Left – which was initially struggling for a long-awaited revolution - compromised on the left-inclined reformism introduced by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – what they called as ‘Islamic Socialism’. Later on, Bhutto’s assassination started an era of Pakistan’s ‘great depression’ under Zia’s dictatorship. Zia’s Islamization merely brought death and dollars home. This was the decade of decline of the Socialist regime in the whole Eastern bloc. Zia should be credited for playing his role in that decline, during the counter revolution in Afghanistan – known as Afghan jihad.

Despite all the failures, state-torture and lack of resources, a little section of the ideologically committed left continues to struggle in the country. Unfortunately, that is too small to register its presence. How is that little section different from the lot discussed above? The left believes in justice. According to the right-wingers, revisionists and liberals, they also believe in justice. However, the left also believes that it is inconceivable to separate justice from economic justice for everyone.

Economic justice inevitably means eradicating oppression of one class over the other. Unlike liberals and the right wing, the leftists clearly acknowledge the essential role of economics in any political structure. It does not mean that the liberals deny the role of free-market in order to maintain the system they advocate; it only means that the leftists know that to lessen the inequalities that exist under capitalism, it is essential to change it and replace it with a something else.

With more precision, leftists understand that capitalism is the central cause of social miseries, while liberals, right-wingers, revisionist reformists and all such people, tend to believe that if capitalism cannot cure the inequalities, it can surely help lessen them. This belief exists despite the historical realistic evidence of the opposite. Pakistan’s left needs to separate itself from this messy political situation – which may be called as an ‘ideological crisis’ – and reorganise to struggle for a secular, classless and people’s Pakistan.

This post also appeared here.
Ammar Aziz An independent filmmaker and political activist who teaches film theory at NCA. He blogs at and tweets at @ammar_aziz
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Kjkhan | 12 years ago | Reply who are you then ?
Ahan, right on some points, though archaic in clarity and misinterpretive in certain areas. | 12 years ago | Reply Also forgot to mention, nationalism has always been the handmaiden of welfarestate(or some kind of limited, pseudo-socialism) provisions of structure since decolonization of most of the world, infact in the case of the Algerians as well, whether one looks at India, or Egypt in Nassr's time. I mean its not hard to see the compatibility of opposing "globalization" and in that process, and because of it, trying to create strong nationhood which is why i dont think Imran is that unclear or inconsistent in his provisions.
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